at sea, 900 miles
south of San Francisco,
December 20th, 1866.
"GOOD-BYE, my boy, take care of yourself!" said Jones, and Smith, and Thompson, and shook hands with me, and then all shouldered their way through the crowd toward the other end of the steamer, to have a farewell shake with somebody else, for the ship was just ready to leave - all was confusion - everybody in a hurry. I edged out of the surging mass of humanity and leaned on the port bulwarks, to search among the multitude on the pier for familiar faces. Then the young man with the evil countenance parted the crowd on either side of him, struggled edgeways toward me, like a hog climbing through a fence, and offered to sell me some limes. I had refused him a dozen times already, but this time I purchased, to get rid of him.
"Good-bye, my lad, take care of yourself!" I wrung the hands of Jones, Smith, and Thompson, again, and again they disappeared through the human commotion, to repeat their farewells with other friends at the other end of the ship. I turned toward the crowd on shore again, and neatly dodged an apple discharged at some one behind me, whose friend on shore took this method of shaking hands with him. Some of the faces were glad, some were listless, some were sorrowful - they belonged to people who were enjoying the distinction of being acquainted with parties on the departing ship - to people who knew no one on board, and who were sullenly hopeless of ever being able to go "home" - to people whose friends and relatives were going to distant lands, and whose pleasant faces they might never behold again in life. The cutthroat with the illustrated papers clove a passage to me, and I bought him out and got rid of him. And then I faced about and dodged an orange hurled from the shore - another good-bye that came near miscarrying.
"Good-bye, my lad, take care of yourself!" I shook Jones, and Smith, and Thompson, warmly by the hand once more, and once more, panting and perspiring, they struggled through the crowd to bid another farewell to friends at the other end of the ship. The party with the withered cigars, "yust imborted fun Hawanna," arrived, and offered his whole stock at a ruinous sacrifice - five cents a piece. I had it not in my heart to take advantage of any man's necessities, and I refused to purchase. I was grieved to see a good-bye apple from the shore cave in the side of his head as he turned away. At this point Bilgewater arrived with a keg of quartz specimens, to be delivered to his aunt in New York; Johnson brought a glass jar of fine tarantulas and scorpions for his brother, the doctor, in Brooklyn; Witherspoon brought a case of extra California wines, to be presented in his name to the Secretary of the Interior; and Elbridge brought a box of choice California fruits, to be placed on exhibition at the Patent Office. We had an outside stateroom - No. 14 and so it cost us but little trouble to receive and stow away these things; though to speak truly, they crowded our baggage somewhat.
"All ashore that's going!" It was too bad. Jones was nearly back again - was even reaching out his hand at arm's length for another farewell shake - but was wedged into the crowd and so squeezed that his eyes were well nigh bursting from his red-hot face; Smith and Thompson were close behind him. The order spoiled everything. They could not overcome the crowd, and so were borne bodily backward toward the companion-way, and disappeared.
We backed out through a pitiless storm of apples and oranges, through which I caught occasional glimpses of excited faces and flashing handkerchiefs on shore, as one sees such things through pelting hail and snow; and as it ceased, and distance intervened, and the multitude broke apart and dribbled away like a temporary human embankment, I saw Jones, and Smith, and Thompson, each shaking his own hands, and faintly heard a word or two of their good old kindly farewell. I heard the words "BYE" and "CARE," and I knew they had used the old formula, because these were naturally the only words emphasized in that formula.
Then I stood apart and soliloquized: "Green be my memories of thee as are thy hills this bright December day, O Mistress of the Occident! May no - "
"Oh, dang the Occident! There's lively times down stairs. The old man played his hand for all it was worth - the passengers raised him - the old man come back - they went him better - the old man passed out, and all things are lovely and the - "
"Say what you have got to say in plain English, Brown, and refrain from vulgar metaphor."
"Well, there was a young fellow married a girl and smuggled her aboard, and her father boarded us in a Whitehall boat with a bogus policeman, and they grabbed her and he resisted, and there was a fight, and she cried and took on and said she would go with him or die, and if she went home she'd up and die sure, and they corraled her and seized a rope round her waist, and was going to lower her away, but the passengers mixed in and shucked the old man out and made the bogus policeman jump overboard with a black eye, and said they'd hang 'em if they didn't leave quick, and so the turtles are safe in the state room, and the old son of a seacook's gone; but - you ought to have been there to hear the old man cuss, and the girl cry and hang on to him - to the young one, not the old one - and the passengers singing out. 'Bust him! heave him overboard! keel haul the old hound!' and one would take him a whack under the ear, and another would fetch him a welt in the ribs, and the policeman catching it right and left, and holding up his hands to save his mug, and about two thousand steerage women snuffling and howling, and m-o-r-e crowding and gouging, and trampling going on - Oh, blood, hair and the ground tore up ! - I never see the like!"
I said, "You can go to bed now, Brown, if you feel tired," and I went forward to make inquiries. It appeared that a youth of twenty-three or four had clandestinely married a girl of fifteen, and taken passage for New York. Her father had boarded us in the stream with a pretended policeman, (discarded lover in disguise, no doubt). There was a fight; the passengers took sides with the young couple and were victorious. The girl hanging by a rope and just ready to go by the run into the small boat, was hauled aboard again. The father and his man were driven out of the ship; we were under way for America once more, and the sinking honeymoon rose up with added lustre over the rescued victims of matrimony. Long may it shine unclouded!
That was one story. Another said the policeman showed the star of legitimate authority, and the old man sat in the boat as we moved away, and cried bitterly, and shook his hand at the lover and said, "You miserable, heartless dog, you have stolen away my child!" And they said he was a worthy-looking old man too.
All the afternoon, yesterday, two or three hundred passengers paced the promenade deck, and so quiet was the sea that not half a dozen of them succumbed to sickness. But at 8 or 9 at night the wind began to rise, and from that time it steadily in creased in violence until, at midnight, it was blowing a hurricane. There was a tremendous sea running, and the night was so pitch dark that a man standing on the deck would find by voices at his elbow that other persons were almost touching him, when he imagined himself alone. On deck, above the lashing of the waves, and the roaring of the winds, the shouting of the captain and his officers, and the hurried tramping of the men were scarcely to be heard.
The steerage passengers were at once imprisoned below, and the hatches battened down and canvassed over; the ship was by the head, and the seas were sweeping over the bows every now and then; every man under the ship's pay - officers, cabin crew and all - were set to work to break cargo and move it aft; a large quantity of flour was transferred to the stern, and the large boats on the after-guard were pumped full of water. These precautions eased the ship's head and saved her. It was well that the hatches were down snug before the terrific squall struck us, just after midnight, else either of the three fearful seas that swept over the ship then in quick succession must have poured thousands of tons of water into her and sent her to the bottom.
As it was, the vessel was in peril enough. She was tossed about like a plaything - climbed lofty billows, paused a moment on the crest, and then plunged down into the gulf on the other side; climbed the next wave, and while one held his breath in anticipation of the ghastly dive and the deadly sinking sensation in the chest that always accompanies it, a prodigious wave would spring upon her from some side angle, and send her stunned and staggering, broadside on, like a man struck with a club! And then the officers floundered in water up to their hips, and shouted orders that came aft reduced to hoarse, confused whispers by the howling blast! Then the gunwale, a solid timber as thick as a man's thigh, snapped like a pipe-stem - away went twenty feet of the starboard bulwarks forward - down came a dozen stanchions with a clatter - crash went a deluge of water booming aft through steerage and forward-cabin, carrying stools, carpet sacks, boxes, boots, valises, and a rattling smash-up of queens ware and crockery along with it - and on the reeling floors, amid the shrieking of the cordage and the roaring of the midnight winds and the thundering of the midnight sea down on their knees in the slush went two hundred and fifty of the ungodliest of all the ungodly crowds that ever lumbered a ship yet, to pray!
Such consternation as there was aboard this ship you have not seen in ten years, perhaps. Poor fellows, some of them were well nigh beside themselves. A man from one of the back settlements knelt down, in the middle of the forward cabin, with an arm clasping a stanchion to enable him to maintain his position; and there he knelt and prayed fervently, till an oil-skin carpet sack came washing by him, and he grabbed it - found it was not his - set it adrift again - and went on praying; and so he went on, supplicating for succor and prospecting for carpet sacks, till sea-sickness got him, and he had to drop all other considerations and attend to bailing out his stomach. But it may be said of this stranger that he meant well, and held his grip as well as any man could have done it. And any man of judgment cannot but think well of his modesty in only relying on Providence to save the ship, but looking out for his carpet sack him self. If we would always do our share many things would be accomplished that never are accomplished.
It was a heavy storm - the heaviest Captain Wakeman has seen on this coast in seventeen years, except one - and the heaviest another old sea Captain (among our passengers) of twenty-eight years' experience, ever saw in his life. [N.B.-Is there always an old skipper aboard who never saw such a storm before?] It proved the America to be a staunch and reliable vessel, however, and her commander a thoroughly competent officer, and these things will render the passengers more satisfied and confident hereafter in case we have another storm.
SEQUEL TO THE ELOPEMENT
I have to give the sequel to the runaway match now. Yesterday it was whispered about that our young couple, who passed in the ship as "Mr. and wife," and occupied a state room together, were really not married! Luscious sensation for a monotonous sea voyage! Capt. Wakeman exploded two or three awful salt-water oaths and ordered the Purser to produce the culprits before him at once. It was done, at 8 P.M. An explanation was demanded. They said they were married in San Jose Valley, but had lost the certificate. The Captain swore a blood-curdling oath that he'd furnish them another, and mighty quick, too; and ordered up the Rev. Mr. Fackler, an Episcopalian minister of San Francisco, to perform the ceremony, and four respectable persons to witness it. The bridegroom did not seem particularly gratified with these proceedings, and even the bride said afterwards that they had kept company together four days on shore before they shipped, and she was satisfied - thought people might mind their own business, and let theirs alone. She said they were going to be married in Brooklyn, and that was the programme from the start; didn't care anything about having any such foolishness on the ship! A child fifteen years old, and weighted down with the wisdom and experience of an infant! Another lady said she couldn't see why people wanted to meddle with other people's business. Why couldn't they let the girl alone! God help me! I am an orphan and many and many a league at sea - with such a crowd as this!
The old man had them married, though, on the spot, (at sea, 70 miles south of San Francisco,) and gave the girl a certificate, and kept one himself to give to her father in San Francisco, and the trouble was at an end and the sensation over. A fresh one was started to-day, when it was discovered that the bridegroom was spliced under a fictitious name, and so the "old man," (as all sea captains are called,) got off some more complicated and appalling blasphemy, and hauled up the young man and married him over again!
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